The Leonberger is a large, muscular working dog, well suited for the original purpose of family dog, farm dog, and draft dog. The breed is strong and powerful, with medium to heavy build, slightly longer than tall. Males in particular carry a lion-like mane on the neck and chest, and both males and females have a double coat. The coat is medium to long, and the outer coat is medium-soft to coarse, lying flat and is mostly straight. The undercoat is soft and dense. The outline of the body is always recognizable. The Leonberger is light-footed and graceful in motion. The dog has an effortless, powerful, ground-covering gait with good reach and strong drive. An even, confident temperament along with obedience and vigilance is essential to the dog’s role as a family companion.
Leonbergers come from the German town of Leonberg, where they were supposedly bred beginning in the 1830s to resemble the lion on the town crest. The town’s mayor, Heinreich Essig, was a dog breeder and is said to have crossed a Landseer Newfoundland with a “Barry” (precursor to the Saint Bernard), and then a Great Pyrenees. This claim is disputed, however, as there are also descriptions of very Leonberger-like dogs in Austria as long ago as 1585. Further, modern geneticists say more breeds than those three would be needed to produce the traits seen in early Leos. Regardless, Essig was a talented promoter, and he placed his dogs with the celebrities of the day including several royal families. Regular folk also appreciated the breed as all-purpose farm dogs, watch dogs, and draft dogs. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the breed became very popular and commanded a large fee, largely because the breed’s creator gave them to nobility to create a fad for them. During World War I, Leonbergers pulled ammunition carts. Only five Leos survived that war. Only eight Leos survived World War II. All modern Leonbergers trace to these dogs, following a concerted effort by a group of German breeders to rescue them in 1945. Now the breed is popular in Europe, though still fairly uncommon in America. The first Leo came to America in 1971. The AKC recognized the breed in 2010, and it has surged in popularity since. Leos have served as water rescue dogs, trained to leap from helicopters to reach drowning people.
The Leo is a devoted and trustworthy companion, even-tempered, and very affectionate. They are eager to please and fairly easy to train. They are friendly to strangers but also protective of their owners. They are generally good with other pets and dogs, although some can be domineering toward other dogs. Quiet and calm indoors, they are nonetheless good watchdogs.
Leos are more athletic and agile than many of the giant breeds, but they are not good jogging dogs. They enjoy a daily walk or romp and even longer hikes. They also are good at pulling carts, swimming, and search and rescue. The thick coat requires brushing several times a week and daily during shedding seasons. They enjoy cold weather.